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Netanyahu will have 28 days to put together a government

President to hand Netanyahu mandate to form government on Sunday

As Herzog’s consultations end, Likud chief gets backing of 64 MKs; both Arab parties decline to endorse anyone for prime minister; coalition negotiations continue

Illustrative: Isaac Herzog after being chosen as president with then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Illustrative: Isaac Herzog after being chosen as president with then prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 2, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Isaac Herzog announced Friday that he had concluded his consultations with the political parties and would hand Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu the mandate to form a government on Sunday.

Netanyahu secured the recommendations of the 64 MKs in his right-religious bloc (Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism,) while outgoing prime minister Yair Lapid was nominated by 28 MKs (Yesh Atid and Labor) with the remaining 28 (National Unity, Yisrael Beiteinu, Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al) declining to recommend anyone for the post.

Following the meetings, Netanyahu was invited to the President’s Residence on Sunday where he will officially receive the mandate. From then he will have 28 days to form a government. The president also has the discretion to give Netanyahu a 14-day extension should he request it.

But Netanyahu seems eager to quickly establish a government and coalition negotiations have already begun.

On Friday, talks were continuing between Likud and the far-right Otzma Yehudit, one of the three factions that make up Religious Zionism and who were negotiating as separate factions.

A statement from the faction said that talks were being held “in good spirits.”

Netanyahu and his team have also held talks with other leaders of his bloc this week.

Meeting Ben Gvir on Thursday afternoon, Herzog repeated his concerns caught on a hot mic a day earlier, over the far-right lawmaker’s positions.

“I said that your party has a certain image that raises concerns in many places, regarding the treatment of Arabs in our state and region. World leaders are asking me,” Herzog told Ben Gvir.

He added, “I am asked in the Muslim world about the Temple Mount. This subject is sensitive.”

The president was heard telling representatives from Shas on Wednesday: “You’re going to have a problem with the Temple Mount. That’s a critical issue,” adding that with Ben Gvir — who has pushed for major changes at the flashpoint holy site — “you have a partner that the entire world is anxious about.”

In his face-to-face with Herzog Thursday, Ben Gvir responded: “God forbid, I do not treat Arabs as a monolith. I just returned from Eilat and saw students from a Nazareth high school. You should have seen it, everyone said, ‘Ben Gvir, come take a selfie.'”

The Otzma Yehudit chair said that he would work for the benefit of the entire country, but emphasized: “There should be order.”

On the matter of the Temple Mount, Ben Gvir told the president that “we are not saying that the Temple Mount is not holy to others, but we have to remember that the Temple Mount is our heart, our history.”

Knesset member Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount compound escorted by police officers on March 31, 2022 (Facebook screenshot; used under clause 27a of the copyright law)

“All of us are against racism, and it’s impossible to say to a Jew, you can’t ascend the Temple Mount because you are Jewish. I am for equal rights,” he said.

Ben Gvir and many on the political right have long pushed for greater access and control over the Temple Mount, which is largely administered by the Jordanian Waqf. Currently, Jews can only visit the site at certain times and are barred from praying there, though the latter limitation has been increasingly broken in recent years.

But despite his reassurances, Ben Gvir has already drawn a rebuke from the US for attending a memorial event for Meir Kahane on Thursday night.

“Celebrating the legacy of a terrorist organization is abhorrent. There is no other word for it. It is abhorrent,” US State Department spokesman Ned Price said when asked during a press briefing about Ben Gvir’s participation in the memorial event hours earlier. Price was referencing the Kach group that the American-born rabbi founded in 1971 and its offshoot Kahane Chai.

Kahane led the group until his assassination in 1990. Members and supporters of Kach and Kahane Chai killed, attacked, or otherwise threatened or harassed Arabs, Palestinians and Israeli government officials. While the organization remains outlawed in both Israel and the US, Kach has been dormant since 2005.

Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit ran on a joint ticket with Religious Zionism led by Bezalel Smotrich and the anti-LGBT Noam party. The slate won 14 seats and is set to be the incoming coalition’s second-largest party after Likud.

After the meeting with Otzma Yehudit, Herzog met with MK Avi Maoz, the sole representative of Noam, and expressed his concerns over the lawmaker’s remarks against the LGBT community.

“In my view, the love of Israel belongs to everyone that lives in this land. There was a fear in relation to things you said about the LGBT community. Every person is created in the image of God, and we need to respect everyone, we only have one State of Israel. This also pertains to the people in your party,” he told Maoz.

Maoz told the president that he spoke as a representative of his party, and said his faction’s “first task is to restore respectful discourse.” The Noam chair decried remarks made by Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday accusing Maoz of seeking to establish a “racial purity department” within the government.

“He said that my desire to establish a department aimed at strengthening Jewish identity in the country is a desire to establish a racial purity department. We need to speak respectfully.”

Noam has attracted attention for its calls to ban pride parades, reinstate banned and largely debunked conversion therapy, reverse reforms that opened the kosher certification market, and promote “Jewish education” in public schools.

Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am did not recommend any candidate for prime minister during their session with Herzog. Neither did the Hadash-Ta’al party that met with Herzog Friday morning.

President Issac Herzog (L) meets with Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas in Jerusalem on November 10, 2022. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

In his meeting with representatives from Hadash-Ta’al, Herzog chided MK Aida Touma-Sliman for praising five members of a Palestinian terror group who were killed during an Israeli raid last month as “martyrs.”

MK Aida Touma-Sliman (left) and other members of the Hadash–Ta’al party leave a meeting with President Isaac Herzog at the President’s residence in Jerusalem on November 11, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“At the height of the election campaign, you expressed support for terrorists, which is something unacceptable to the Israeli public,” he said. “Maybe that caused the backlash [in the election[ among the public?”

She responded: “I don’t think I went too far. It needs to be understood that there are two languages and two narratives.”

Meeting with Herzog on Thursday, Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas said his Islamist party had “accepted the decision of the voters.

“But we are not giving up our right to be partners and to influence. We fear that this new government will deliberately harm the achievements that Ra’am accomplished,” Abbas said, referring to its work in the outgoing coalition.

Ra’am made history last year when it became the first Arab party in decades to join an Israeli coalition under then-prime minister Naftali Bennett, shunning the rejectionism of the other Arab factions.

“We hope that the government that will be established will agree to uphold the status quo of the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” Abbas said, referring to the Temple Mount mosque that is Islam’s third-holiest site.

Earlier on Thursday, Herzog met with representatives from United Torah Judaism and Religious Zionism. UTJ representatives assured Herzog that their faction would not play any part in upending the status quo on the Mount.

The ultra-Orthodox parties, along with the Chief Rabbinate, are opposed to the ascension of Jews to the holy site because they believe that Torah law bans setting foot in the sacred area.

UTJ chief Yitzhak Goldknopf told Herzog that his party’s voters had felt personally targeted by the actions of the outgoing government “and were greatly harmed” by it.

Goldknopf promised, however, to work on behalf of the entire Israeli public, not just the Haredi community.

Yisrael Beytenu declined to formally back any candidate for the next prime minister during their meeting, saying that the outcome of the election is “very clear.”

MK Oded Forer said the party is particularly concerned that the expected future government will push to amend the Law of Return, which currently offers Israeli citizenship to anyone with at least one parent with Jewish ancestry.

Any such change, said Forer, “would be scandalous in terms of our worldview.”

The current law is strongly opposed by the ultra-Orthodox parties as well as many in Religious Zionism, for granting citizenship to many not considered Jewish under Orthodox Jewish law.

On Wednesday, Likud and Shas formally backed Netanyahu as the next prime minister, while Yesh Atid gave its support to Yair Lapid and National Unity declined to support any candidate.

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